Thursday, May 10, 2007

Regulate Guns like Cars?

Over on, Professor Eugene Volokh tries to rebut the argument that guns should be regulated the same way that cars are regulated. He finds this argument odd, because "cars are basically registered as follows:

(1) No federal licensing or registration.

(2) Any person may use a car on his own private property without any license or registration. See, e.g., California Vehicle Code §§ 360, 12500 (driver's license required for driving on "highways," defined as places that are "publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel"); California Vehicle Code § 4000 (same as to registration).

(3) Any adult may get a license to use a car in public places by passing a fairly simple test that virtually everyone can pass.

Well, true. But here's the problem, as I point out in the comments:

I don't think the argument is odd if one doesn't approach it quite so literally. First, the federalist distinction for some gun control advocates -- including me -- is not all that important. I'd prefer to have states imposing the control, but in the absence of that, I'd happily endorse federal regulation.

Second, few people use cars in a purely private fashion. Thus, from a pragmatic standpoint, the use to which most cars are put -- driving on public roads -- are heavily regulated by states ("Why hello, Mr. CHP, and no, I didn't realize I was going 75 in a 20 mph zone..."). I'll grant that guns are put to private use far more often than cars, but the concern here is when guns are used "publicly."

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the value in having a test for gun ownership is not that it would make people safe, concientious users of guns (though this is surely a happy if incindental by-product of such tests). The value is the burden-slash-cost of the test itself! If people have to sign up for a boring class -- remember driver's ed? -- and then pay some (hopefully exorbinant) fee to own a gun, the chances of purchasing a weapon for an impulse crime fall off a cliff, don't they?

Finally, the other obvious objection to Prof. Volokh's argument is that it proves too little -- perhaps we need more driver regulation too! (I can hear the Volokh nation collectively shuddering as I type.) Certainly, I'm amazed that my 82-year-old Grandmother is allowed to drive without any state oversight, even though she clearly poses an extreme health safety hazard to anyone driving in the Clovis, CA area. So regulate Grandmas and guns.


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